Becky Khanthavongsa, Owner
1. How did you get into hospitality?
When I was growing up my parents owned a restaurant which the whole family was really involved in, so hospitality has always been second nature. I tried a couple of different career paths, but never realised how much I enjoyed the customer service side of hospitality until I was working in the corporate world. I left the professional services industry, then after 6 years in the franchise business I was ready to get creative with my own venture. I had my sights set on opening a venue offering an experience through food and drinks, and from there Zaab was born.
2. What do you love about the restaurant industry?
For me the restaurant industry is special because it combines product and service offerings to give people a truly complete sensory experience. I love that you can take inspiration from all aspects of life and translate that through food and drinks, as well as music, décor, service and atmosphere.
3. Can you tell us a bit about your restaurant?
Zaab came about because I wanted to bring a piece of Lao and Thai culture to Canberra, in a way that was new, unique and fun. The word ‘zaab’ means ‘delicious’ in Lao, and ‘spicy & intense flavours’ in Thai and those are both concepts we aim to embody. My family is of Lao heritage, so with my parents already experienced in running a restaurant and my father in the kitchen I felt I had a great opportunity to really bring the South-East Asian experience to life. Originally we were very street food based, and I wanted people to feel like they were dining on a busy street in Bangkok. In 2019 we’ve moved more in the direction of street art and street culture, but Zaab will always be built around good, honest, and tasty Lao and Thai cuisine which are our roots.
4. What is one of your most memorable dining experiences?
Once I missed a connecting flight in Brisbane and had to stay overnight after a long international haul. I was tired and uninspired. Instead of passing out in a hotel I decided to treat myself to dinner and came across Allium. I was blown away by every dish that was served, all the flavours so delicate yet so bold. I have never walked away from dinner with tears in my eyes and that is exactly what happened.
5. What restaurant is on your must-visit list this year?
I would definitely love to visit Cutler & Co in Victoria.
6. What is your 'old favourite' restaurant that you often revisit?
XO in Narrabundah, Canberra, is my go-to whenever I’m planning a night out or special occasion.
7. What do you love about this restaurant?
XO serves familiar flavours in a modern and exciting way. They are an establishment that is both classy and fun. I always find myself leaving not only satisfied, but inspired.
8. What is your favourite dish at this restaurant?
Personally I like to try new dishes every time I visit. I am never disappointed and to pick a favourite would be impossible. However I do always have to finish with their soft-serve flavour of the month.
9. What is your favourite dish at your restaurant?
My favourite would have to be the Son in Law Eggs, from our street-food starters. Not a common dish, simple yet full of flavour.
10. Can you share an “Insider Tip” for dining at your restaurant?
Every time I eat out I always opt for a Tasting Menu or Feed Me as I feel it best represents the full impact of what the venue has to offer. I also suggest this when dining at Zaab as our Feed Me covers a wide variety of dishes to share, and I often find people can fall in love with dishes they wouldn’t normally think about. Also when you dine at Zaab a big tip would be to start and end your night with our cocktails. There are flavours to suit all palettes and preferences – plus I think we can all agree that life is a little more exciting with a good cocktail!